Heavy Weights with Less Reps or More Reps with Lighter Weight?
People want to know if they should add more weight and do less repetitions or use lighter weights and do more reps. If you’ve been following a program, eventually you will hit a plateau. A plateau is when your body has adapted to the program and progress is no longer happening. That’s the way it works, so when you reach a plateau, it’s time to change the program. Then what do you do? Lift heavier, add more reps or both?
When you lift heavy weight, the reps are lower. It may sound crazy to do only 1 to 5 reps but doing this increases strength while obviously improving your ability to lift heavier. You become more efficient and decrease the time you might otherwise waste. Lifting heavy feels good, but you want to be careful that you don’t start chasing numbers. The time will come when you can no longer add pounds to the bar. And if you are chasing numbers and you push (or pull) too far/heavy, you could compromise proper form and end up with an injury.
So now, if you increased the weight and your form is breaking down, it’s time to drop some of the weight and increase the number of reps.
Lifting lighter weights still builds strength but differently. Your muscular endurance will increase. This allows you to work at a higher intensity. Using lighter weights means more work, as in working longer, more sets, more reps and more workout sessions since your recovery time should be faster.
When you hit a plateau, adding reps instead of adding more weight allows you to focus on proper technique and form while making any changes to programming if necessary. Proper form gets you working the right muscles rather than letting long time habits of compensating muscles doing the work. This will take more time, but keep you safe and injury free.
So how should you train? A combination of both! Including both heavy lifting and high rep training (on different days or weeks) is ideal. Both methods require proper form, because without good technique, neither weight nor reps matter when you are injured.
Heavy weight with low reps.
Light weight with high reps.
If you’ve been doing 5 sets of 5 squats and can’t add weight or do an extra rep, use less weight and do 5 sets of 8 squats, or add more weight and do 3 sets of 5 squats. Changing load, sets and reps can add even more fun to your session, especially if you are one to get bored easily. Variety helps some to maintain motivation and increase effort.
Lift with good form and you will improve your fitness level and strength. Make small changes. Be sure to start with a good warm up and end with cooling down. Show up, work and put in the effort consistently and you will progress and see improvements.